Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the British Road Federation (IT 61)


About the BRF

  The BRF is a business organisation representing users and providers of the road network in the United Kingdom. It is the only independent body dedicating its entire activity and resources to this task. Directly and indirectly, through the many trade associations that are members, BRF has the support of tens of thousands of companies in many sectors of the economy.

BRF's Objectives

  BRF concentrate their activities on seven core objectives:

    —  To campaign effectively for a higher quality of service from UK road systems

    —  To collect and present data aimed at monitoring progress towards higher standards of service from the road network

    —  To contribute towards the setting of higher service standards

    —  To promote and manage research aimed at identifying areas in which service standards are in need of improvement and to propose solutions

    —  To focus attention on the following specific areas of service:

  —  Road maintenance

  —  Environmental performance

  —  Safety

  —  Traffic management

  —  Journey time reliability

    —  To support the provision of public transport, cycling and pedestrian facilities

    —  To support a new or improved road where that is the best solution to a transport problem.


  1.1 BRF welcomes the first White Paper on transport policy for 20 years, and is pleased that the Government has pledged to make transport one of its key priorities. In its promotion of "integrated transport" the Government hopes not only to increase public transport use, reduce congestion and improve the environment, but more broadly to help create "a fairer, more inclusive society". The Government therefore recognizes that transport is important not just in terms of economic policy but also in helping achieve its social objectives.

  1.2 BRF's overall assessment of the White Paper is that it contains many of the elements which could be fused into a coherent transport policy, but it remains unclear how that is expected to happen, over what timescale and how it will be funded. In particular the White Paper fails to recognize the importance of investment in addressing Britain's transport problems. Early evidence suggests that the projected under-investment in Britain's transport infrastructure will mean that the Government's proposals are unlikely to have a significant impact on levels of congestion or modal shift.

  1.3 Of equal concern is the lack of urgency and political will in addressing serious long-term transport problems. Many initiatives will not be operational until after the next election, and other difficult decisions have been delegated to local authorities or the Commission for Integrated Transport. Many important road schemes which, by the Government's own criteria, had a strong case for inclusion in the national programme have been deferred to regional planning conferences with no immediate action for dealing with these safety and congestion blackspots.

  1.4 This submission does not attempt to address all aspects of the White Paper. Instead it will focus on those issues which BRF regard as of the highest priority both to the transport sector as a whole, but the road network in particular. It not only draws upon the White Paper, but also the Comprehensive Spending Review[14] and the Roads Review[15]. Taken together these three documents provide the basis of the Government's transport strategy for the foreseeable future.


  2.1 The Government's stated intention of giving transport policy a higher priority is put in context with the publication of its public expenditure plans for the next three years. On 14 July 1998 the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) to Parliament announcing an increase of £1.8 billion for transport over the next three years. Local transport and integrated transport schemes would receive an extra £1.1 billion, while there would be an increase in road expenditure of £700 million to be targeted on maintenance. This increase is certainly welcome, as it starts to reverse the cuts made to the transport and road sectors in past years. However, closer scrutiny of the Government's figures show that there will only be a minimal increase in real terms, with the planned increases simply reflecting a re-organisation of spending priorities.

  2.2 The Government's expenditure table highlights the arbitrary division of transport modes between "transport" and London Underground, rail franchise payments, and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Expenditure on this second area will fall over the next three years as subsidies to the train operating companies and London Underground are reduced. The figures show that the Government is in fact taking out £339 million in the first two years of the budget cycle and putting in £361 million in the final year (calculated from the base year). Thus the overall transport budget rises by only £22 million over the cycle.

Spending plans £ million cash1998-99 1999-20002000—01 2001-02

Transport2,6852,880 3,2313,673
Rail, CTRL, LUL1,994 1,6701,2381,357
Total4,6794,550 4,4695,030

Source: See Modern Public Services for Britain: Investing in Reform (CM 4011, HM Treasury, 1998: page 50).

  2.3 Moreover, these figures are based on the assumption that London Underground will be self-financing by the end of the decade. Most commentators familiar with the problems of London Underground believe this to be an unrealistic timetable, which might seriously affect the above expenditure plans should the Government's figures prove to be too optimistic.


  3.1 BRF welcomes the decision to invest an extra £700 million in road maintenance over the next three years, in particular the maintenance settlement for the Highways Agency. The Agency has said that the increase in its maintenance budget, from £550 million in 1997-98 to £780 million in 2001-02, will enable it to maintain trunk roads and motorways in a good condition with the emphasis in the future being on preventative maintenance. BRF believes that the Committee should seek clarification from the Highways Agency on this point in view of the maps published by the Agency showing the extent of the network with zero or near-zero residual life.

  3.2 Far more worrying is the situation for local road maintenance. The National Road Maintenance Condition Survey (NRMCS) already shows that these are in a far worse state than trunk roads and the situation is deteriorating at a rapid pace. As the Committee has reported previously there is great concern among local authorities that the NMRCS underestimates the extent of deterioration.

  3.3 Although an extra £400 million is to be provided over the next three years against a base expenditure of £1,850 million (£1,770 million SSA plus £80 million TSG) in 1998-99, the budget for 2001-02 of £2,085 million (£1,905 million SSA plus £180 million TSG) represents a far smaller increase (12.7 per cent) than that provided for trunk roads (42 per cent) over the same period. The TSG-element of the increase, which is ring-fenced for use on primary routes, will be very useful for this part of the network but for the 90 per cent of local roads that are not primary the extra money will do little more than keep pace with inflation and there will be little chance of reducing the maintenance backlog. There is the additional problem that as this money is not ring-fenced it may be raided for other purposes. BRF believes that there should be more controls to prevent this happening.

  3.4 In recent evidence to the Environment, Transport and the Regions Select Committee (ETRSC) the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) argued that local authorities were seeking to keep their roads, particularly the less important ones, in too good a condition. The DETR has challenged the assessments made by the Local Government Association and others that the backlog of local road maintenance is in the order of £4-£5 billion. BRF endorse the ETRSC recommendations in their report published on 17 August which called on the Government to provide its own estimate of the backlog and to produce a 10-year plan to eliminate it.

  3.5 BRF is concerned about the lack of official data on local authority maintenance expenditure. The Department of Transport collected this information until the mid-1990s but BRF understands difficulties in gathering the information led to a decision to drop the survey. In view of the importance of road maintenance and the substantial amounts of public money involved BRF believes that DETR should make efforts to re-introduce the collection of this information.


  4.1 The White Paper and the Roads Review seek to chart a new direction for roads policy. Heralding the end of "predict and provide", the Government's stated priority is to make better use of the existing network before constructing any new roads. However the White Paper does not appear to provide and immediate solutions to the problem of congestion on the national network. There appears to be an acceptance that, on the inter-urban road network at least, the main task for the foreseeable future will be to manage the growth in traffic volumes and congestion. It does not seem that the DETR has found the key to unlocking the linkage between growth in the economy and growth in traffic, although it may be succeeding in ensuring that traffic grows less quickly than the economy rather than faster as it has done for most of the century.

  4.2 The White Paper and the Roads Review are designed to limit the number of journeys made by road and encourage alternative modes of transport. Within urban areas it is certainly possible to increase bus use, cycling and walking, but there are fewer alternatives for inter-urban travel. The growth of budget airlines may ease the pressure on key routes (such as London-Glasgow or London-Manchester), but passenger numbers are unlikely to be significant and are as likely to take passengers away from rail. Moreover, the White Paper and the Roads Review suggest that it will be difficult to increase rail capacity to ease congestion on the road network. The White Paper (see Annex F) shows that the bottlenecks on the rail network are in exactly the same place as the bottlenecks in the road network. Although the Railtrack investment programme announced earlier this year will deal with some of the problems many others will remain.

  4.3 Research commissioned by BRF from transport@cebr—a specialist transport studies unit established at the Centre for Economic and Business Research in order to develop the range of initiatives in the Government's White Paper—suggests that the Government's proposals are unlikely to arrest the problem of inter-urban congestion.[16] On the contrary, congestion is likely to worsen steadily over the coming years. The study argues that the White Paper provides the right framework—the framework of integrated transport—but not, as yet, the content to solve the problem. It states that an effective solution to the problem of congestion on the inter-urban network will need to include a combination of more efficient road pricing, a higher level of investment and a greater degree of modal shift.

  4.4 The transport@cebr study notes that significant congestion on the inter-urban network is a problem that afflicts only one other EU state (Spain) and has arisen in the UK largely as a result of a legacy of under-investment. On the basis of current spending plans, the Government's proposals will not reverse this process. Investment in trunk roads and motorway infrastructure improvements is set to fall from an average of £1 billion in the mid-1990s to £0.3 billion for the three years 1999-2000 to 2001-02. By comparison the study estimates that there will be "an increase of only around £25 million per annum in expenditure aimed at securing modal shift of inter-urban traffic from road to rail—the only mode to which a significant shift of inter-urban traffic can be envisaged".[17] Running the Government's spending plans through CEBR's multi-modal traffic model, TRAVMOD, the study calculates that inter-urban congestion will increase by 29 per cent by 2021.

  4.5 Moreover, the Government's decision to defer so many important road schemes to regional planning conferences will do little to address the serious transport problems in those areas. The publication of Appraisal Summary Tables (ASTs) for 67 of the schemes addressed in the Roads Review also acknowledges that public transport is unlikely to alleviate problems on some of the core routes. For example, the ASTs show that a modal shift to rail is unlikely to reduce congestion on the M1 and M6, which makes the Government's decision to defer these road improvements particularly puzzling. In none of these cases are there any major environmental negatives, although most would, by the Government's own figures, bring strong economic benefits to areas such as the midlands and the north west.

  4.6 The Government developed a new approach to appraisal, assessing each road scheme by five criteria: environmental impact, safety, economy, accessibility, and integration. The aim was "to develop a clear and open framework to appraise and inform the prioritisation of trunk road investment proposals".[18] However, although the criteria are judged both qualitatively and quantitatively, there lacks a set of principles or guidelines outlining how the criteria were to be applied to decide which schemes would be given the go-ahead, which were to be deferred, and which were to be dropped. As a result some of the decisions in the Roads Review appear arbitrary. For example, the A63 is given the go-ahead in Selby despite slight or moderate negatives on three of the six environmental criteria, but with large positives on accessibility criteria. But the A47 Thorney bypass is referred to an RPC, despite having a slightly positive environmental outcome and large positives on the accessibility criteria. Why one scheme was given the go-ahead but not the other is unclear from the ASTs or accompanying documents.[19]

  4.7 Although the Government should be given credit for trying to make the policy-making process more transparent, the thinking behind some decisions lacks clarity and consistency. This only reinforces the perception that the results of the Roads Review were less the outcome of a radical new approach to appraisal and more the consequences of seeking to pare the programme to meet the budget agreed with the Treasury.


  5.1 Urban problems have essentially been handed to local authorities to manage. Within England about 150 local transport plans are to be prepared—a detailed announcement is still awaited from the DETR on exactly how these plans will work but it is envisaged that a system similar to the current TPP structure would operate. Government support for the local transport plans and for the support of local buses is planned to rise substantially over the next three years.

Spending plans £ million cash1998-99 1999-002000.-011001-02

Local transport523598 695987
Local buses262313 355425

Total785911 1,0501,432

Source: DETR Press Release £1.8 billion for Roads, Rail and Local Public Transport, 20 July 1998, No. 606.

  5.2 Though this is only restoring the levels of support for local transport which had reached £1,154 million in 1994-95 but then fell off dramatically in the second half of the 1990s. Assuming the Government's inflation target of 2.5 per cent per annum is met, the plan for expenditure in 2001-02 will only be about 4 per cent higher in real terms than the funding provided in 1994-95.

  5.3 As noted above, funding the increase in support for local transport over the next three years will be met by reducing the support for transport programmes in London (primarily funding for London Underground as the Jubilee Line Extension is completed) and the train operating companies. Over the next three years funding for these will reduce by £1.65 billion. It is of course the Government's hope that these reductions will be replaced by increased farebox revenue and the success of the private funding initiatives.

  5.4 One of the key features of the White Paper/Roads Review is the suggestion that up to 40 per cent of the network be de-trunked and control handed over to local authorities. BRF share the concerns of many local authorities regarding these proposals. Several have made it clear that they are unhappy about taking responsibility for roads which they regard as being of national importance. Others will require a substantial dowry to protect them against future maintenance costs. There is also concern amongst road users about the extent to which existing standards will be sustained on de-trunked roads both in relation to maintenance and unrestricted access for commercial vehicles.


  6.1 Although the White Paper promises to extend the range of targets and indicators, it is unclear as to how they are to be used, developed, or monitored.

  6.2 Road users do not currently get a good deal from the road network. Despite contributing over £30 billion in 1997-98 road users are not guaranteed minimum standards of service, and nor is there a mechanism whereby users and managers can compare the performances of different sections of the network. Although there has been a gradual shift towards a more customer-focused approach, beginning with the Citizen's Charter and the Road User's Charter, nothing substantial has developed from this. The main use of performance targets by the Government at present are to monitor the performance of the Highways Agency in implementing policy rather than addressing the performance of the network itself.

  6.3 Performance indicators should be used to measure the impact of the road network on a range of desired outcomes which are clearly specified. Developed in consultation with user groups and others PIs can reflect the aims and objectives of the road system, highlighting those sections of the network that are under-performing and/or where investment is most needed. PIs could also help spread best practice by allowing for comparisons between different sections of the network, and help set minimum standards of service—benchmarks—to which road users should be entitled.

  6.4 The Government could draw upon the work conducted by the OECD on PIs for the road sector as well as the practical experience of Australia and New Zealand. The OECD's work highlights the need to take into account the interests of politicians, managers, and users in constructing a comprehensive and useful set of PIs. The experience of Australia and New Zealand provides useful lessons on how a programme can be developed and implemented in practice. BRF are currently consulting on how a similar programme could be developed for the UK.


  7.1 BRF were very disappointed that the White Paper made no provision for a Roads Inspector. Most public services which remain in state hands have some form of inspection, such as Ofsted for our schools and the Prisons Inspectorate, to provide an independent assessment of quality of service and help ensure high standards and to promote best practice. More recently, it was suggested that there should be a Housing Inspector to monitor the standards of public sector housing being constructed. There is no such institution to scrutinise the quality of service provided by the network. The role of a Roads Inspector might include:

    —  setting the standards users could expect from the road network;

    —  monitoring the performance of those responsible for road services; and

    —  focusing attention on those sections of the network that were poorly maintained or had accident or environment problems.

  7.2 The Government have pledged that they are committed to getting more out of the existing network before building more roads. They are also committed to halting the decline in the condition of the road network and so it is important that the modest increase in maintenance expenditure is targeted effectively. While the updating of the Road User's Charter outlined in the White Paper is worthwhile, it can be no substitute for an independent authority to identify poor service quality or spread best practice.


  8.1 BRF accepts that road pricing could be an important tool in helping to combat congestion and pollution, as well as generate an alternative revenue stream to fund investment, and therefore welcomes the Government's decision to launch a number of pilot studies on both urban and inter-urban schemes. There remain a number of potential problems with introducing road pricing, such as how to deal with diverted traffic, who to exempt, and what technology to adopt. None of these problems is insurmountable, although all will need to be addressed before its widespread introduction. BRF will be responding to the forthcoming consultation document on road pricing and are happy to work with the Government and others to find effective solutions to these problems as quickly as possible.

  8.2 It is essential that the revenues raised from road-pricing be ear-marked for investment in the transport infrastructure. Moreover, this money should be additional to existing transport budgets for benefits to be also felt by road users. It is also important that new performance standards be introduced alongside new charging regimes, laying down the minimum standards of service that the charge-payer can expect. If road users have to pay a premium price, they will demand a premium service.

  8.3 Alongside the Government's plans for introducing pilot schemes the European Commission have also brought forward proposals for the introduction of an EU-wide system of road pricing for commercial vehicles by 2004. The White Paper, Fair Payment for Infrastructure Use, looks to replace the current patchwork of tax and charging systems by a common regime which would both help complete the European Single Market and ease congestion in member states. It is argued that charges should correspond to marginal social costs which reflect the cost of putting an extra vehicle on the road, including external costs such as pollution. Although the EU White Paper only relates to commercial vehicles, it will be left to member states to decide whether to apply these charges to motorists.

  8.4 As part of the research commissioned by BRF, the transport @cebr study ran two scenarios through the TRAVMOD stimulator for the UK. Scenario One was based upon the policies contained in the Government's White Paper, and the limits of the current spending plans. Scenario Two was based upon an agenda of further action, incorporating elements from the EU White Paper and its timetable for implementation. It includes the adoption in 2004 of a higher level of investment in road infrastructure and road pricing for both motorists and commercial vehicles, with charges set at an average of 20p per km and rising in line with average earnings. There is a significant difference in outcome. Under Scenario One congestion will continue to worsen relative to the current situation—by as much as 29 per cent by 2021. Under Scenario Two congestion falls sharply in 2005— a 20 per cent improvement over the state of things today—and remains better than it is today right through to 2021.

  8.5 Although Scenario Two shows a significant improvement in levels of congestion it should not be read as an exact prescription. The EU timetable for road pricing is optimistic. It is unlikely that a national or international system of road pricing to replace vehicle excise duty and fuel duty will be in place by 2004. Moreover, the price changes and investment levels assumed in Scenario Two are not meant to be any more than illustrative. There are many other possible scenarios, both from computer modelling and the results of actual pilot studies, which will give us a fuller picture of how problems such as congestion are best tackled. What the transport@cebr analysis does suggest is that road pricing, along with more investment (which could be generated from the charges themselves), is likely to play a part in solving the problems facing road transport. The extent of this will be dependent upon future research results which BRF will be monitoring closely.


  9.1 As part of the roads review the Government announced that a series of transport problems would be remitted to the appropriate Regional Planning Conference (RPC) or that the Government would commission a "clean sheet of paper study" to consider how particular problems could be dealt with. It is the DETR's intention that the studies announced by the Government will be commissioned fairly quickly (within six to nine months) and would be expected to make recommendations back to Ministers within two years. At this stage it is still unclear exactly how the various studies will be implemented, although BRF understands that recommendations for action from the RPCs or studies will be presented for a decision to the Secretary of State.

  9.2 The status of the RPCs and their recommendations is at present uncertain. A number of schemes which have been referred address key sections of the national network, some of which require serious investment. However, it is unclear how a recommendation from an RPC to address a particular problem not in current investment plans, e.g., the electrification of the London to Bristol/South Wales main line or widening the M6 from Birmingham to Manchester, would be funded. The Government should make it clear whether it will endeavour to implement all solutions suggested by RPCs, or whether their scope will be restricted by budgetary or other constraints.

  9.3 Although the principle behind the decision to remit these problems to local consideration is sound, it is of concern that there will be further delay before any real action is taken to deal with these problems. Given that it will be three years before proposals are made to the Secretary of State there is a danger that little or no action to deal with the problem will be seen for 10 to 15 during which time the existing problems are likely to get considerably worse.


  10.1 Much of BRF's work in recent years has focused on securing environmental improvements to roads, and we therefore welcome the provision in the White Paper for higher environmental standards for existing, as well as new, roads. It is now accepted that there will be a presumption in favour of quiet surface materials for all new and resurfaced trunk roads. The Highways Agency is also to get a budget, as yet unspecified, to improve older roads not in immediate need of maintenance with quiet surfaces, acoustic barriers and other measures. This is a significant step towards achieving the BRF's objectives outlined in the report Old Roads to Green Roads.


  11.1 The White Paper has many laudable intentions. Few would dispute the need to reduce congestion, encourage more people to use public transport, and improve the environment. However, it is doubtful whether the policies outlined in the White Paper and Roads Review will help the Government achieve its objectives.

  11.2 The recent Government announcements promised to provide a period of certainty and stability to transport policy, but in reality there is much left unresolved. Contentious issues and decisions have been deferred to local authorities, the Commission of Integrated Transport, and RPCs. The most radical suggestion of all, road pricing on urban and inter-urban roads, will go out to consultation. There is unlikely to be legislation until the end of this Parliamentary session at least, with little action until midway through the next decade.

  11.3 Despite claims that transport has become one of the Government's main priorities, Britain's transport system will remain chronically under-funded. While the Government's decision to allow the DETR to keep the savings from subsidy reductions to rail franchisees and London Underground, the real increase of £22 million over three years will do little to reverse the investment backlog in both road and rail. Until this serious problem is addressed, the Government is unlikely to achieve its transport, economic, and social objectives.

14   Modern Public Services for Britain: Investing in Reform (Cm 4011, HM Treasury, 1998). Back

15   A New Deal for Trunk Roads (DETR, 1998). Back

16   The New Deal and the Problem of Inter-Urban Congestion (transport@cebr, 1998). Back

17   The New Deal and the Problem of Inter-Urban Congestion (p. 3). Back

18   A New Deal for Trunk Roads: Guidance on the New Approach to Appraisal (DETR, 1998: para 1.1). Back

19   See A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England: Guidance on the New Approach to Appraisal and Understanding the New Approach to Appraisal: Complete Set of the Appraisal Summary Tables (DETR, 1998). Back

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